Pierre Peters Champagne Le Mesnil sur Oger “Grand Cru” Blanc de Blancs Brut (Champagne) – Sharp, vivid and highly mineralized. A clean stroke of a very sharp sword slashes the palate with finely-honed metal and only the brightest of sun-reflecting lemon and apple. Yet there’s a firm, cold sort of generosity here, as a stern father loving with discipline rather than hugs This is a wine with something to say. (6/07)
Jacquesson 1996 Champagne Avize “Grand Cru” Extra-Brut (Champagne) – Gorgeous fino-reminiscent esters on the nose, with a satiny texture (despite great acidity) and preserved lemon on the finish. This still has a ways to go, but it’s a terrific Champagne. (6/07)
Feuillatte 1996 Champagne Brut Rosé “Cuvée Palmes d’Or” (Champagne) – Mildly but pleasantly oxidized, but otherwise mostly flat, showing old strawberries and dead leaves. Definitely past its best drinking window. (6/07)
Chartogne-Taillet 1996 Champagne Brut “Fiacre” (Champagne) – Geranium and sand, with funereal white flowers obscuring the nose. Eventually, the palate struggles through, showing tangerine, bleached cherries and a vanilla/marshmallow thickening on the finish. Interesting. (6/07)
J. Lassalle Champagne Chigny-les-Roses “1er Cru” Brut Rosé “Reserve des Grandes Années” (Champagne) – Extremely floral and very earthy, with cinnamon cap mushroom, cooked apple, and over-matured, baked strawberry dusted with clove. Flecks of metal swim about. This is brooding, long, lush and full, with a slushy froth. Every bit a red wine, despite the pink color and the bubbles, it’s fabulously complex and a solemn joy to drink. (5/07)
Roger Pouillon Champagne à Mareuil sur Aÿ “1er Cru” Brut Rosé (Champagne) – Overwhelmed by volatile acidity, so that the fresh strawberry fruit that would otherwise dominate turns awkward and clumsy. (3/07)
Egly-Ouriet Champagne Grand Cru Brut “Tradition” (Champagne) – A soft sea breeze over brioche, with black cherries at the core. There’s great acidity, but a big, aggressive body flashing neon banana leaves dominates all else. The wine grows from softness to sharpness as it finishes. Good, but a little showy. (12/06)
(The original version, with more photos, is here.)
30 April 2006 – Yosemite National Park, California
A relaxing morning picnic in the shadow of El Capitan (no wine; there’ll be plenty later) followed by some lazy strolling around Yosemite Village and a long peruse at the Ansel Adams store and gallery, fill what is another beautiful morning in Yosemite. This is, truly, one of the very few places we’ve been that can match New Zealand for raw natural beauty, and it’s a little difficult to leave.
120 West is closed (rockslides, sinkholes, or some other natural feature of the California paradise), and so we’re forced onto a precipitous mountain crossing on our way out of the park. It’s a beautiful, if nail-biting, road that empties into towns right out of the mythic Old West, then continues into a verdant, ranch-covered stretch of the Central Valley. Modesto is…unfortunate…but the rest is a very pleasant drive.
Sheraton Gateway SFO – A serviceable hotel with a view of the San Mateo Bridge and the San Francisco Bay – which is not, especially from this position, one of the world’s great vistas – but that is, for us, no more than a bed proximate to the airport. We’ve got social plans, and stay no longer than it takes to chill some wine in the minibar.
Redwood City, California
Bill Futornick’s house – Bill’s gatherings feature terrific food and wine, but even better conversation. Of course, precious little of it is printable, which will surprise no one who knows him.
Jacquesson 1996 Champagne Avize “Grand Cru” (Champagne) – Dusty dried yeast and desiccated lemon zest. Clean and gorgeous, with a silky, enticing perfume. Complex and beautiful.
Soucherie 1995 Savennières Clos des Perrières (Loire) – Botrytis? Light wet chalk and fennel pollen mark a dry, but also dried-out wine that seems like it has given itself over to mold. Stick a fork in it, because it’s done.
Baumard 1995 Savennières Clos du Papillon (Loire) – White asparagus soup studded with cauliflower. There’s a strong, musty minerality underneath, and something that seems like low-level botrytis, but a grapefruity acidity adds zip to a long, interesting finish. Very good. It’s in no danger of falling apart, but if I had any more, I’d probably drink it soon; the balance of elements seems pretty appealing at this stage.
Edmunds St. John 2003 Viognier Rozet (Paso Robles) – Fat peach syrup, earth and pectin with almonds on the finish. Chunky. I suspect this wine’s greatest flaw is its company at this moment…higher-acid, leaner wines that make this seem heavier than it is.
Amido 2004 Tavel Les Amandines (Rhône) – Smooth orange, rose petal and strawberry leaf. Despite Tavel’s fame, I’m rarely much of a fan; ponderousness and/or obviousness are the flaws shared by most of what I’ve tasted, and then there’s the prevailing alcohol issue with southern French rosés. But none of those problems are in evidence here. Quite nice.
Roussel & Barrouillet “Clos Roche Blanche” 2002 Touraine Gamay (Loire) – Herb-infused earth and white pepper with a powdery texture. This wine reminds me of the same producer’s sauvignon in its dominance of terroir over variety, but it’s a little more varietally recognizable than the sauvignon; the gamay shows through with bright, red-fruited acidity. There’s good aging potential here, and I think the wine would benefit from more of it.
Lafarge 1998 Volnay “Vendanges Sélectionnées” (Burgundy) – Tannic, with red cherry and walnut peeking from beneath the iron maiden. There’s potential, perhaps, but wow is this tight, and I wonder if it will ever fully resolve.
Hudelot-Noellat 1999 Vougeot Les Petits Vougeot “1er Cru” (Burgundy) – Tight but gorgeous, with crisp balance and a lovely finish of surpassing length. There’s not much “fruit” as such, at least not at the moment, but one can almost feel it lurking in the background. Stay tuned.
Boutin “Château La Roque” 1995 Pic Saint-Loup “Cupa Numismae” (Languedoc) – Horse sweat and mustiness. Tight, tough and very, very hard. I’d hoped that after eleven years, this would be a little more engaging, but no such luck. Is it still closed, or dying? I’m at a loss.
Terrabianca 1990 “Campaccio” (Tuscany) – Red and green bell peppers, thick, dark cherries and herbs. The wood isn’t at all apparent, and this appears to be resolving towards something reminiscent of an urban Saumur-Champigny, though the finish is a bit more acrid than one would like. Still, for a super-anything, it’s fairly unspoofulated.
Laurent-Perrier Champagne Brut (Champagne) – Sharp and ungenerous, with dried lemon extract, apple skin, and a papery texture. (3/07)
Westport Rivers 2001 Brut “Cuvée RJR” (Southeastern New England) – Leaner than previous vintages, with light toasty/leesy aromas sizzling under a wan apple and walnut palate. Finishes a bit flat. (3/07)
(The original version is here.)
26 March 2006 – Thionville, Illange & Uckange, France
Frédèrique & Jean-Marie Burger’s house – Lunch with the relatives. Always casual. Always fun. Today, it’s pot au feu, and we soon join the family in deciding that potatoes swimming in broth are the best part of the meal. Ah, the cuisine légère of Lorraine…
Wolfberger “Belle Saison” Pinot Noir (Alsace) – Yes, it’s non-vintage. Light, crisp red cherry with lots of acid and minerals at the foundation. This functions more like a white wine with red fruit aromas than it does an actual red or rosé. It’s only just OK, but it’s probably better than the vast majority of Alsace pinot noirs that result from significantly more effort.
Edmunds St. John 2001 Syrah (California) – As is typical whenever I bring a domestic wine to France, the weight and heat are commented upon (negatively) by the natives. And maybe it’s the setting or the context, but this does come off just a touch hotter than usual: there’s strong leather, blueberry, black pepper, and a touch of sweet Scotch lounging in Sherry wood. It’s rather forceful, sure, but there’s good acid and a succulent juiciness that keep it tasty. I also note that, despite their reservations, my family guzzles it down.
We follow lunch with a walk around the old German fortifications on the small hill that crowns Illange.
Gaston & Claude Schwender’s house – Drinks with the relatives. More formal, more “classic” French. And also tinged with sadness, because these relatives are older and can’t really host meals anymore…which is a particular shame, as a lot of my formative French experiences were at this family’s table. Perhaps more relevantly, many of my most revelatory wine experiences were from Gaston’s cellar. Now, he can’t drink much (doctor’s orders), she can’t drink at all (ditto), and matters have reached the point of slow but inexorable decay. Loss is always with us, isn’t it?
Roederer 1997 Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut (Champagne) – Intensely fresh lemon, ripe apple and yeast with sharp acidity and pulses of greater complexity and weight around a spherical, icy core. Striking.
Patricia & Bruno Fratini’s house – Dinner with friends (and relatives, who’ve been invited to join us). More great food, more wine. But I’ve reached the point where the smoke wears on me, and thus I start losing interest in the French that surrounds me; an interest I need to follow well enough to participate. Thankfully, there’s more music on the overhead projection screen; this time, a mix of seventies Americana (mostly the Eagles) and the always-entertaining Alain Bashung.
Louis Violland 1999 Pommard “La Pierre du Roy” (Burgundy) – Rough, sweaty and slightly athletic, with wild cherry, blackberry and light earth. It brightens with aggressive swirling. Nonetheless, it remains a somewhat surly wine, with its rough edges unfiled.
Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1997 Pauillac (Bordeaux) – Cedar chest and fresh cassia with pine. It smells like Christmas. It’s also fairly tight, but swirling brings out some aromatics and more complexity, and the wine is probably just about to re-emerge in a burst of blackcurrant fruit. The finish is a bit of a sine wave that one must catch at zenith. This is a pretty good effort from a difficult vintage.
Wolfberger “Belle Saison” Pinot Noir (Alsace) – Take two. And in this company, much stranger and less appealing than before: fish and crushed minerality with skin bitterness and a flat finish. Moral: drink it first, then move on to better things.
J. Lassalle Champagne Chigny-les-Roses “1er Cru” Brut Rosé (Champagne) – Heavily-yeasted berries, deep and dark, soon give way to a more complete and harmonious mélange of burnished mahogany fruit, bright berry acids, and bakery-scented earth. Absolutely delicious. (1/07)
Roederer Champagne “Brut Premier” (Champagne) – Heavy on the brioche, setting a sort of dark brown mood. Traces of lusty red and orange fruit linger in the background, slightly timid in the presence of such dominant pastry. A good, if particular, Champagne. (1/07)